Celia Luterbacher

When is a scientist not a scientist?

If there was a field guide to professions, the entry for scientists might describe a university lab filled with expensive equipment as the preferred habitat. It might note that typical scientist behavior includes applying for grants, publishing papers, and filing patents. But what if you observed a flock of people doing science who satisfied none of these criteria — would you still identify them as scientists? At the Hackuarium space in the greater Lausanne area of Switzerland, they are known as biohackers, and they are changing the definition of science itself.

To my uninitiated ears, the word “biohacker” evoked the darker side of information technology the first time I heard it: the exploitation of digital weakness (possibly using pipettes?) In fact, biohackers have taken the ingenuity and rebellion of computer hacking and co-opted them into a collaborative new approach to biology, in which existing tools and ideas are taken apart and built back up into something even better. Now a worldwide phenomenon, biohacking includes the practice of “do-it-yourself biology” or DIYbio, which Alessandro Delfanti describes in his book, Biohackers. The politics of open science as the process of “using open access tools and claiming independence from both academic and corporate institutions.” …

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Celia Luterbacher

Science writer, communicator and enthusiast.

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